Make the Best of Your “Captive” Audiences in the Coming Year

Make the Best of Your “Captive” Audiences in the Coming Year

Most organizations have what I refer to as a captive audience, be that members, patrons, patients and their families or students. Add to that list physicians, faculty and staff or employees and the group is even larger. These audiences are an obvious pool of potential donors. All of them should be familiar with the good work that your organization does, making them strong advocates for the organization with the general public. Yet in reality, these groups are often hard to engage as donors and reticent to speak on behalf of the organization’s need for private philanthropy. 

The reasons are many: 

  • There is a belief held by both sides that “insiders” have a limited capacity and/or responsibility to give.
  • Those not officially assigned a fundraising task feel that it is someone else’s responsibility to do the asking.
  • A lack of education about the ways in which smaller gifts are applied to larger projects leave those inside the fold believing that only “big donors” – typically from outside the organization – make impactful gifts.
  • Fundraising staff is reticent to approach peers or subordinates as representatives of the institution.
  • There is a general avoidance of all personal financial matters at work or in social settings.

In addition to these hard-to budge-traditions, I would argue that the way most organizations talk to the inside audiences about giving contributes to the problem.

 Is your institution guilty of these habits?

  • Elevating major donors as a group separate from and above all others, thus communicating that “donors” are an exclusive club. (Think about this…do you identify “employee giving” separate from “our donors”?)
  • Highlighting only “superstar” donors – the newsworthy gift or the recently acquired big name.
  • Discussing impact in terms of organizational accomplishment without clearly communicating the role of community-wide philanthropy in achieving those goals.
  • Making generic asks for smaller gifts to your inside audiences without fully explaining the greater need or other ways to participate in giving.

If all donors were talked to, and about, in an inclusive, every gift matters, we-couldn’t-do-it-without-YOU way, imagine the influence on this audience, where the members are already “a part of the family.” 

Changing the way we interact with our insider audience would improve organizational understanding of the role of philanthropy, enhance the individual’s ability to engage in meaningful donor relations and inspire him or her to serve as an advocate for the organization and its mission with less anxiety about addressing the need for private support. Furthermore, I’d wager that it would make this audience more likely to give and that they would be more generous than previously expected. 

We know how to treat our donors:  acknowledge every gift, recognize the donor appropriately, report the impact of giving and engage the donor in the mission of the institution. This year, remember to apply those standards to both your inside and outside the organization donor audiences.